Performance Appraisal

Performance Appraisal

Employees generally want their managers to tell them three things: what they should be doing, how well they’re doing it, and how they can improve their performance. Good managers address these issues on an ongoing basis. On a semiannual or annual basis, they also conduct formal performance appraisals to discuss and evaluate employees’ work performance.

The Basic Three-Step Process

Appraisal systems vary both by organization and by the level of the employee being evaluated, but as you can see in the Figure below it’s generally a three-step process:

  1. Before managers can measure performance, they must set goals and performance expectations and specify the criteria (such as quality of work, quantity of work, dependability, initiative) that they’ll use to measure performance.
  2. At the end of a specified time period, managers complete written evaluations that rate employee performance according to the predetermined criteria.
  3. Managers then meet with each employee to discuss the evaluation. Jointly, they suggest ways in which the employee can improve performance, which might include further training and development.

It sounds fairly simple, but why do so many managers report that, except for firing people, giving performance appraisals is their least favourite task?[1] To get some perspective on this question, we’ll look at performance appraisals from both sides, explaining the benefits and identifying potential problems with some of the most common practices.

Simple graphic with three steps to consider in the performance appraisal process. The first step is to set goals and performance expectations and specify criteria that will be used to measure performance. The second step is to complete a written evaluation that raters performance according to the stipulated criteria. The third step is to meet with the employee to discuss the evaluation and suggest means of improving performance.
The Performance Appraisal Process

Among other benefits, formal appraisals provide the following:

  • An opportunity for managers and employees to discuss an employee’s performance and to set future goals and performance expectations
  • A chance to identify and discuss appropriate training and career-development opportunities for an employee
  • Formal documentation of the evaluation that can be used for salary, promotion, demotion, or dismissal purposes[2]

As for disadvantages, most stem from the fact that appraisals are often used to determine salaries for the upcoming year. Consequently, meetings to discuss performance tend to take on an entirely different dimension: the manager may appear judgmental (rather than supportive), and the employee may get defensive. This adversarial atmosphere can make many managers not only uncomfortable with the task but also less likely to give honest feedback. (They may give higher marks in order to avoid delving into critical evaluations.) HR professionals disagree about whether performance appraisals should be linked to pay increases. Some experts argue that the connection eliminates the manager’s opportunity to use the appraisal to improve an employee’s performance. Others maintain that it increases employee satisfaction with the process and distributes raises on the basis of effort and results.[3]

360-Degree and Upward Feedback

Instead of being evaluated by one person, how would you like to be evaluated by several people—not only those above you in the organization but those below and beside you? The approach is called 360-degree feedback, and the purpose is to ensure that employees (mostly managers) get feedback from all directions—from supervisors, reporting subordinates, coworkers, and even customers. If it’s conducted correctly, this technique furnishes managers with a range of insights into their performance in a number of roles.

Some experts, however, regard the 360-degree approach as too cumbersome. An alternative technique, called upward feedback, requires only the manager’s subordinates to provide feedback. Computer maker Dell uses this approach as part of its manager-development plan. Every year, forty thousand Dell employees complete a survey in which they rate their supervisors on a number of dimensions, such as practicing ethical business principles and providing support in balancing work and personal life. Dell uses survey results for development purposes only, not as direct input into decisions on pay increases or promotions.[4]

Retaining Valuable Employees

When a valued employee quits, the loss to the employer can be serious. Not only will the firm incur substantial costs to recruit and train a replacement, but it also may suffer temporary declines in productivity and lower morale among remaining employees who have to take on heavier workloads. Given the negative impact of turnover—the permanent separation of an employee from a company—most organizations do whatever they can to retain qualified

employees. Compensation plays a key role in this effort: companies that don’t offer competitive compensation packages tend to lose employees. Other factors also come into play, such as training and development, as well as helping employees achieve a satisfying work/non-work balance. In the following sections, we’ll look at a few other strategies for reducing turnover and increasing productivity.[5]

Creating a Positive Work Environment

Employees who are happy at work are more productive, provide better customer service, and are more likely to stay with the company. Vancouver-based Telus Corp., tracks their employee engagement with the help of a human resources consulting firm, with a 31% increase from 2007 to 2014. This increase was shown to have an impact on higher customer satisfaction, in addition to low turnover rates, an increase in job applications as well as an increase in their stock price.  [6]

Take a few moments and watch the RSA Shorts “Drive” video from Daniel Pink, which summarizes recent research on motivation and comes to some interesting conclusions.

The Employee-Friendly Workplace

What sort of things improve employee attitudes? The 12,000 employees of software maker SAS Institute fall into the category of “happy workers.” They choose the furniture and equipment in their offices, eat subsidized meals at one of three on-site restaurants, and enjoy other amenities like a 77,000 square-foot fitness centre. They also have job security: no one’s ever been laid off because of an economic downturn. The employee-friendly work environment helps SAS employees focus on their jobs and contribute to the attainment of company goals.[7] Not surprisingly, it also results in very low 3 percent turnover.

Recognizing Employee Contributions

Thanking people for work done well is a powerful motivator. People who feel appreciated are more likely to stay with a company than those who don’t.[8] While a personal thank-you is always helpful, many companies also have formal programs for identifying and rewarding good performers. The US-based Container Store rewards employee accomplishments in a variety of ways. For example, employees with 20 years of service are given a “dream trip”—one employee went on a seven day Hawaiian cruise.[9] The company is known for its supportive environment and in 2016 celebrated its seventeenth year on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For®.[10]

Involving Employees in Decision Making

Companies have found that involving employees in decisions saves money, makes workers feel better about their jobs, and reduces turnover. Some have found that it pays to take their advice. When General Motors asked workers for ideas on improving manufacturing operations, management was deluged with more than forty-four thousand suggestions during one quarter. Implementing a few of them cut production time on certain vehicles by 15 percent and resulted in sizable savings.[11]

Similarly, in 2001, Edward Jones, a personal investment company, faced a difficult situation during the stock-market downturn. Costs had to be cut, and laying off employees was one option. Instead, however, the company turned to its workforce for solutions. As a group, employees identified cost savings of more than $38 million. At the same time, the company convinced experienced employees to stay with it by assuring them that they’d have a role in managing it.[12]

Why People Quit

As important as such initiatives can be, one bad boss can spoil everything. The way a person is treated by his or her boss may be the primary factor in determining whether an employee stays or goes. People who have quit their jobs cite the following behavior by superiors:

  • Making unreasonable work demands
  • Refusing to value their opinions
  • Failing to be clear about what’s expected of subordinates
  • Showing favoritism in compensation, rewards, or promotions[13]

Holding managers accountable for excessive turnover can help alleviate the “bad-boss” problem, at least in the long run. In any case, whenever an employee quits, it’s a good idea for someone—other than the individual’s immediate supervisor—to conduct an exit interview to find out why. Knowing why people are quitting gives an organization the opportunity to correct problems that are causing high turnover rates.

Involuntary Termination

Before we leave this section, we should say a word or two about termination—getting fired. Though turnover—voluntary separations—can create problems for employers, they’re not nearly as devastating as the effects of involuntary termination on employees. Losing your job is what psychologists call a “significant life change,” and it’s high on the list of “stressful life events” regardless of the circumstances. Sometimes, employers lay off workers because revenues are down and they must resort to downsizing—to cutting costs by eliminating jobs. Sometimes a particular job is being phased out, and sometimes an employee has simply failed to meet performance requirements.

Employment at Will

Is it possible for you to get fired even if you’re doing a good job and there’s no economic justification for your being laid off? In some cases, yes—especially if you’re not working under a contract. Without a formal contract, you’re considered to be employed at will, which means that both you and your employer have the right to terminate the employment relationship at any time. You can quit whenever you want, but your employer can also fire you whenever they want.

Fortunately for employees, over the past several decades, the courts have made several decisions that created exceptions to the employment-at-will doctrine.[14] Since managers generally prefer to avoid the expense of fighting wrongful discharge claims in court, many no longer fire employees at will. A good practice in managing terminations is to maintain written documentation so that employers can demonstrate just cause when terminating an employee. If it’s a case of poor performance, the employee would be warned in advance that his or her current level of performance could result in termination and then be permitted an opportunity to improve performance. When termination is necessary, communication should be handled in a private conversation, with the manager explaining precisely why the action is being taken.

Key Takeaways

Important terms and concepts

  1. The process of human resource management consists of actions that an organization takes to attract, develop, and retain quality employees.
  2. Human resource managers engage in strategic human resource planning—the process of developing a plan for satisfying the organization’s human resource needs.
  3. The HR manager forecasts future hiring needs and begins the recruiting process to fill those needs.
  4. In recruiting and hiring, managers must comply with antidiscrimination laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). They cannot treat people unfairly on the basis of a characteristic unrelated to ability, such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, or disability.
  5. HR managers also oversee employee training, from the first orientation to continuing on– or off-the-job training.
  6. Attracting a diverse workforce goes beyond legal compliance and ethical commitments, because a diverse group of employees can offer perspectives that may be valuable in generating ideas, solving problems, and connecting with an ethnically diverse customer base.
  7. Employees are motivated to perform well when they’re challenged, respected, treated fairly, and appreciated.
  8. Some other factors that contribute to employee satisfaction include job redesign to make jobs more interesting and challenging, job rotation, which allows employees to rotate from one job to another, job enlargement, which enhances a job by adding tasks at similar skill levels, and job enrichment, which adds tasks that increase both responsibility and opportunity for growth.
  9. Many organizations recognize the need to help employees strike a balance between their work and home lives and offer a variety of work arrangements to accommodate different employee needs, such as flextime (flexible scheduling), job sharing (when two people share a job), and telecommuting (working from outside the office).
  10. Compensation includes pay and benefits. Workers who are paid by the hour earn wages, while those who are paid to fulfill the responsibilities of the job earn salaries. Some people receive commissions based on sales or are paid for output, based on a piecework approach.
  11. In addition employees can may receive year-end bonuses, participate in profit-sharing plans, or receive stock options.
  12. Managers conduct performance appraisals to evaluate work performance.
  13. Turnover is the permanent separation of an employee from a company and may happen if an employee is unsatisfied with their job, or because the organization is not satisfied with the employee. Sometimes, firms lay off workers, or downsize, to cut costs.

  1. Heathfield, S. (2018). “Performance Appraisals Don’t Work: The Traditional Performance Appraisal Process.” About Money. Retrieved from:
  2. Nelson B., & Economy, P. (2003). Managing for Dummies, 2nd ed. New York, NY: Wiley. p. 140.
  3. Archer North & Associates (2010). Reward Issues. Retrieved from:
  4. Dell, Inc. (2011). 2011 Corporate Responsibility Report: Listening, Inspiring, Sharing: Tell Dell, p. 37. Retrieved from:
  5. Smith, G. P. (2017) “5 Tips to Attract, Keep and Motivate Your Employees.” Retrieved from:
  6. Lindzon, J. (2014) How employee engagement can boost the bottom line. Retrieved from:
  7. Safer, M. & Leung, R. (2003). “Working The Good Life: SAS Provides Employees With Generous Work Incentives. Retrieved from:
  8. McGarvey, R. (2004). “A Tidal Wave of Turnover.” American Way. p. 32–36.
  9. The Container Store (2013). “What We Stand For: Organization with Heart—My 20-Year Trip.” Retrieved from:
  10. The Container Store (2016). “What We Stand For: Organization with Heart—17 Years on FORTUNE’s “100 Best” List.” Retrieved from:
  11. Turner, F. (2002). “An effective employee suggestion program has a multiplier effect.” Retrieved from:!ftmultiplier.html
  12. Daft, R. L., & and Marcic, D. (2006). Understanding Management, 6th Edition. Florence, KY: Cengage Learning. p. 219.
  13. Smith, G. P. (2013) “Top Ten Reasons Why People Quit Their Jobs.” Retrieved from:
  14. Muhl, C. (2001). “The Employment-at-Will Doctrine: Three Major Exceptions.” Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor Review. Retrieved from:


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